Remembering Charlie

I met Charlie Wilson right after 9/11. I was supposed to go to Peshawar to hook up with Abdul Haq, a former mujahedeen who I had interviewed in Rome during the loya jirga planning meeting in the crazed week that followed the attacks, and one of my friends in Washington suggested I meet with Wilson first, just to double-check Haq. Charles Nesbitt Wilson: June 1, 1933 – February 10, 2010

Wilson was already legendary—he was a longtime congressman when I worked as a communications director to a fellow Texas Democrat, and everyone seemed to have a “Good Time Charlie” story, always recounted fondly. One of my colleagues was invited by Wilson to go to Israel and Russia, and our boss wouldn’t let him. “You? Go with Charlie? To Russia? I’ll never see either of you again,” he said.

Most congressmen, if they had pets, had dogs. There were a lot of dogs, in fact, walking the halls of Congress. But not Wilson. He had two cats, enormous Himalayans, who lived in his office and who, on a regular basis, would walk into his committee room even during hearings. It was a bit startling for those testifying,

By the time I had lunch with him in 2001, Wilson was drinking mineral water and was lobbying for, among others, Pakistan. But he was loaded with sage advice about my upcoming trip, saying, “Haq is one of the few white hats over there,” and then, more sadly, “Haq has had a lot of people disappoint him.”

It was only much later that I realized Wilson was considering himself in those ranks. He took it very personally that the U.S. ignored Afghanistan after the war with the Soviets. He might have had a stinger hanging in his congressional office, but Wilson was no war enthusiast. He wanted to do the “right” thing, and he felt his responsibility.

- Michele Mitchell